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Kazakh Prisoner Files Reports With Smart Phone

Behind bars: RFE/RL's Kazakh Service has featured blog reports on prisoner abuse directly from a Kazakh prison inmate.

Behind bars: RFE/RL's Kazakh Service has featured blog reports on prisoner abuse directly from a Kazakh prison inmate.

How often does a media organization receive an offer for first-hand reports from a criminal in prison?

When Marat Nurumov submitted a blog post via smart phone from a prison in central Kazakhstan in August 2010, he baffled editors at RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, Radio Azattyq.

“He sent us an email saying he would write for us, and at first we thought it was a provocation, but we contacted his relatives and confirmed his identity,” Radio Azattyq director, Yedige Magauin, explains.

How does a criminal imprisoned in Kazakhstan get access to a smart phone?

Magauin says that mobile phones are illegal in prison, but due to widespread corruption, inmates find loopholes to obtain certain luxuries -- including, it seems, smart phones.

After his release from prison in March, the pseudonymous Nurumov -- a common criminal, not a political prisoner -- continued submitting blog posts.

His introspective observations concerning the difficult circumstances that led to his crime, as well as his documentation of the harsh abuse many prisoners face in Kazakhstan’s prisons, have contributed to his unusual status as a celebrated prisoner-blogger. Nurumov even sent RFE/RL his impressions when he first met Aron Atabek, one of Kazakhstan’s most well known political dissidents, in prison.

Nurumov’s blog entries can be seen on Radio Azattyq’s website under a web feature called “Blogistan.”

He is currently working on fourth series of entries titled “On The Outside,” which can be found in Russian on “Blogistan.”

Kazakhstan’s justice system is routinely criticized by the international community, but the last few years have been especially fraught with prison unrest and deadly incidents, as well as acknowledged abuse by prison officers.

From A Single Blog To 'Blogistan'

“This turned into a big project and we managed to obtain reports on human rights
violations in a prison where ordinary citizens and journalists are not allowed access,” Magauin says of Nurumov’s blogs.

In April 2010, the Kazakh government gave Radio Azattyq the perfect opportunity to develop the “Blogistan” project by blocking citizens’ access to Kazakh blogs and leaving Kazakh bloggers without a permanent platform. “Blogistan” adopted the motto “your blog on our website.”

Magaiun highlights Radio Azattyq’s role in developing and empowering the blogosphere in Kazakhstan. “Blogistan” was developed purely for a Kazakh audience, featuring Kazakh bloggers who would otherwise not have the chance to be published outside of the country.

The success of “Blogistan” also attracted Russian bloggers; today, the site features blog entries in both Russian and Kazakh. Bloggers in both languages have the opportunity to discuss controversies surrounding social and cultural issues that matter to Kazakh citizens, providing an alternative view on issues that are often overlooked by local media.

At the end of 2010, Radio Azattyq collected some of “Blogistan’s” most successful Kazakh and Russian-language blog posts, and published them in a book.

The overflow of content from new bloggers on “Blogistan” has helped to strengthen Kazakhstan’s repressed civil society, Magauin says. “We have received some amazing reports from ordinary people exercising their civic duty.”

-- Deana Kjuka